As a self-employed business owner, you are responsible for the successes – and failures – of your business.
From administrative duties to health insurance benefits for your employees, it’s up to you to make sure all tasks are complete.
With Open Enrollment for health insurance happening now, it’s the right time to think about health coverage options.
How important is it to find health insurance? What do you need to know about Obamacare changes in 2016?
Related Article: Should You Buy Into a Company's Health Insurance Plan?
Here are four key points that every self-employed business owner needs to know about health insurance.
1. Deadline Dates Have Changed
The health insurance shopping season is two weeks shorter this year than last year, so time is of the essence. Open Enrollment began Nov. 1, 2015 and ends Jan. 31, 2016. But there are other calendar details you should know:
- To ensure your health benefits go into effect on January 1, purchase a plan on or before Dec. 15, 2015.
- If you purchase coverage between Dec. 16, 2015 and Jan. 15, 2016, your benefits will be delayed.
- If you enroll or change your plan between Jan. 16, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2016, your enrollment or changes won’t go into effect until March 1, 2016.
If you choose to forgo enrolling in health insurance during Open Enrollment, you won’t be able to get coverage until the next enrollment period begins. One exception to this rule is if you experience a Qualifying Life Event, like getting married, losing health coverage through an employer, or having a child. These situations would qualify you for a Special Enrollment Period. Don’t bank on experiencing one of these life events.
Instead, find a plan during the Open Enrollment Period and preferably before December 15. This will ensure your coverage is in place as early as possible in 2016.
2. The Fine for Being Uninsured Increased
All Americans are required by law to get health insurance or face a fine, also called the tax penalty. The fine is either a flat fee or a percentage of your household income — whichever is higher. In 2015, the fine for those who remain uninsured is $325, but in 2016, the fine more than doubles to $695. Additionally, the household income percentage used in calculating the fine is also increasing, from 2 percent in 2015 to 2.5 percent in 2016.
Regardless of how your fine is calculated, the maximum fee in 2016 is $2,085. Unless you want to write a big check when filing tax returns, the time to get coverage is now. Even if you’re only able to get coverage for part of the year, you’ll save money by avoiding the fine for any month you had qualifying coverage.
3. Viable Options Exist Beyond HealthCare.gov
While many shoppers instinctively go to HealthCare.gov to find health insurance coverage, there are other trusted places to shop. The federal government has partnered with private health insurance exchanges like GoHealth.com to help enroll Americans in subsidized health insurance.
Partner websites like GoHealth.com offer the same plans and same information available on HealthCare.gov, but are often able to provide consumers with more responsive help. For example, during last year’s Open Enrollment Period, the average call wait time for leading private exchanges was less than 90 seconds, compared to an eight-plus minute wait time for HealthCare.gov.
With this kind of time savings and a potentially higher level of customer service, it’s definitely worth trying a private exchange like GoHealth.com to explore your health insurance options.
Related Article: How to Navigate the Affordable Care Act as a Freelancer
4. Smart Health Insurance Choices Are a Smart Business Decision
Start 2016 off right by making informed health insurance choices. Act quickly to meet key deadlines for applying for coverage. If you’re thinking about foregoing coverage because you assume it’s not affordable, be aware that the fine for going uninsured is increasing—and that you may be eligible for tax credits to help reduce your overall coverage costs.
Finally, don’t be afraid to use a private health insurance exchange to research and better understand your health insurance choices; the customer service members may help you get what you need more quickly, letting you get back to the basics of running your business.